The Orchard Plan: Extending the school year

The Orchard Plan, initiated in 1987, is a California experiment intended to determine whether year-round schools can educate students better while reducing class sizes and providing teachers with the option of earning substantially higher salaries in return for a longer work year.

Patricia Gandara, University of California-Davis, reports that, despite salary increases of nearly 20 percent in the last 10 years, teachers continue to leave the profession at a rate of 50 percent every seven years. Low salaries and large classes are the reasons most commonly cited for leaving teaching. Moreover, teachers who leave early in their careers are most often those with the best academic records. Yet, because of current economic conditions, further salary increases or class-size reductions are unlikely. Nearly half of all teachers hold second jobs and among male teachers, 72 percent hold second jobs.

Addressing teacher dissatisfaction with salaries, class size

Gandara studied the Orchard Plan experiment primarily to determine the effect it was having on teacher compensation and job satisfaction. The Orchard Plan is a multi-shift, year-round school program that enables schools to increase their capacity 20 percent by dividing students into groups that attend school on different schedules. It reduces class size by about three students and allows teachers to work a 223-day contract with a 20 percent increase in salary. It accomplishes this without additional cost to the state or school district. Districts participate only if teachers and their unions are willing partners in the experiment.

Under the Orchard Plan, students are grouped heterogeneously into five shifts and attend school on a staggered basis. Each group operates on a 60-day school shift followed by a 15-day break. This cycle is repeated three times during the year with all students and teachers taking a common four-week summer break, a two-week winter break, and a one-week spring vacation. This schedule requires that teachers remain in their classrooms throughout the years while students rotate in and out.

Teachers spend more time in classroom

Though each teacher is assigned five shifts of students, only four are in school at one time. Every three weeks, one shift of students leaves for break and another shift returns. Gandara reports that initially teachers were reluctant to participate in the study because it meant that the composition of their classroom would change every three weeks. However, after the first year, a survey of teachers indicated that teachers came to view the shifting population and the resulting changes in class dynamics as one of the most positive aspects of the program.

Although the plan does not dictate how teachers should teach, Gandara states that teachers in all three schools independently concluded that team teaching and cooperative learning would be the most effective means of instructing shifting student populations.

Increased workload, increased pay

In the 1988-89 school year, the first three schools began the experiment. These included a small, economically-disadvantaged, rural school in which minority students accounted for 50 percent of the enrollment, a mid-sized urban school on the Mexican border, and a predominantly white, suburban school. At the time these schools elected to participate, a few teachers transferred. However, those who chose to transfer were far outnumbered by teachers wanting to join the program. An unusually large number of male teachers applied for positions. At the outset of the program, the combined faculty included a high percentage of male teachers (22 percent), teachers with many years experience (a mean of 12.3 years), and a high percentage of teachers with advanced degrees, including two doctorates.

In closed interviews (no administrators were present) teachers in this experiment expressed satisfaction with their increased workload and increased pay. During the first three years, overall satisfaction climbed from 74 percent to 92 percent and finally to 98 percent (with 79 percent in the final year very satisfied and 19 percent moderately satisfied). In three years, only five out of 58 teachers left the program. Of those, three left for personal reasons unrelated to job satisfaction. Although salary continued to be a major factor in teacher satisfaction, teachers reported that their autonomy and involvement in designing instruction was important, as well. Teachers increasingly came to believe that the program was better for students. In fact, students’ achievement scores at all three schools have shown significant gains compared to control schools in the same districts.

The issue of “burnout” was also discussed in interviews. However, only 7 percent of the teachers who had been with the program for three years said they wanted to leave. Many teachers expressed the opinion that burnout was caused more by boredom, and that team teaching and 12-week shifts minimized boredom. Although one teacher attributed her departure to stress, the consensus among teachers was that a year-round schedule was no more stressful than a nine-month schedule. After three years in the program, 95 percent of the teachers planned to return.

Less attrition

Teacher satisfaction in the Orchard Plan experiment has been high. Over a period of three years, less than 10 percent of the teachers left the program, a considerably lower than normal attrition rate. That teachers elected to join the experiment and designed the changes necessary to implement the plan were important factors for them. Reduced class size, the breakdown of isolation through team teaching, and the opportunity to rethink instruction also increased job satisfaction. Teachers were surprised by and pleased to report more active involvement on the part of students, fewer disruptive behaviors and greater enthusiasm. At least in part, they attributed this to the ever-changing mix of students. All things considered, however, significantly increased salary was the key to job satisfaction for the majority of teachers. In addition to simply relieving financial strain, teachers said that the increased income enabled them to feel like “true professionals” with schedules and compensation comparable to those of other professions.

Gandara warns that extended contracts are not a panacea, but she believes that by relieving financial pressures, the year-round schedule enables teachers to concentrate on teaching. This extended-year plan, according to Gandara, cost the school districts nothing. In fact, although the Orchard Plan paid five teachers the normal salary of six, these school districts actually saved the cost of employee benefits for the unhired sixth teacher.

“Extended Year, Extended Contracts, Increasing Teacher Salary Options” Urban Education Volume 27, Number 3, pp. 229-247.

Published in ERN November/December 1992 Volume 5 Number 5

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